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Beautiful Life vs. Race/Culture Concepts: What’s the difference anyway?

Since the launch of our free, online Collection Analysis Tool (CAT) in October – which can tell you which racial/cultural groups are represented and how they’re represented on your bookshelves or in your collection – we’ve received lots of great questions from users about our nine unique book categories. The CAT draws on those categories to give users a snapshot of what messages about Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) dominate their bookshelves or collections.

In particular, many users have asked for a clarification about our Beautiful Life and Race/Culture Concepts categories, which are defined as:

  • Beautiful Life: A Focus on Identity -- Books featuring BIPOC in which race, ethnicity, tribal affiliation, culture, im/migration, and/or religious, sacred, or origin stories are central to the story. These books explicitly focus on the diverse expressions of human experience, depending on these elements to drive the storyline.
  • Race/Culture Concepts: Examining Difference and Commonalities Books that explore and/or compare specific aspects of human difference, inviting readers to consider varying perspectives related to race, ethnicity, culture, or tribal affiliation.

Users ask:

If race and/or culture are central to both Beautiful Life and Race/Culture Concepts books, then what's the difference? If I want to use these categories to assess other books in my collection, like middle grade and YA texts, how do I know when to use which one?

While race or culture are central to both Beautiful Life and Race/Culture Concepts books, the Concepts books really do focus on a concept (e.g. 1,2,3 or A,B,C). This could mean that race/culture/ethnicity/tribal affiliation/immigration/religion is the concept itself in a particular picture book. Or it could mean that race, culture, etc. is the lens by which the concept being discussed is understood/explained. They also tend to be explicitly comparative.

Here are some examples of Race/Culture Concepts books:

In the following book, the concept of birthdays/celebrating birth is explored through a cultural lens, discussing various local traditions from around the world:

Birthdays around the world


by Margriet Ruurs and Ashley Barron

"Every child in the world has a birthday. But how children celebrate this occasion depends on where they live. In this latest addition to the Around the World series, award-winning author Margriet Ruurs explores the fascinating ways that children experience birthdays. You'll meet fourteen kids from different countries, each celebrating a birthday according to their local traditions -- from Belgium to India. A world map that pinpoints the countries in the book, a Note to Parents and Teachers with interactive activities and a glossary of foreign words and phrases help to enrich the reading experience. --|cProvided by publisher

Incidental Informational Race/Culture Concepts

In this book, the concept of human difference itself (specifically, intersectionality) is explored:

Here the concept of immigration is explored through the lens of cultural diversity in Australia:

Finally, in this book different experiences of race in America are compared:

Beautiful Life books, on the other hand, are books that take a "deep dive" into one particular cultural, religious, tribal, ethnic, or racial experience/tradition/practice, etc. Here are some examples:

This book takes a "deep dive" into one particular cultural practice in celebration of a little girl's birthday:

The following book explores the Chinese New Year through one family's experience:

In this book, a grandmother passes down the language and knowledge of her Interior Salish ancestors to her own grandchildren:

A day with Yayah


by Nicola I. Campbell and Julie Flett

On an outing in Nicola Valley, British Columbia, a First Nations family forages for herbs and mushrooms while the grandmother passes down her language and knowledge to her young grandchildren. Includes glossary.

Beautiful Life

To get even more granular -- here are two examples of books that explore the same tradition, Holi. The first is Race/Culture Concepts because it is comparative -- looking at Holi practices around the world -- and focused on explaining Holi as a tradition itself:

Whereas the follwing book is Beautiful Life because it takes a deep dive into one family's experience of Holi in India:

Finally -- some books can actually be BOTH Race/Culture Concepts AND Beautiful Life!

This book takes up the concept of "blackness" but does so through a deep dive into black cultural expressions -- in this case, poetry:

And the following book explores the concept of space/place, but does so through individual artists' culturally-specific experiences of such:

You are invited to use and explore our book Categories as you work to expand the diverse books and messages represented on your bookshelves!

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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